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Baltimore: The Plague Ships #1

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Baltimore: The Plague Ships #1

Credits

  • Words: Mike Mignola & Christopher Golden
  • Art: Ben Stenbeck
  • Colors: Dave Stewart
  • Publisher: Dark Horse Comics
  • Price: $3.50
  • Release Date: Aug 4, 2010

I’m kicking myself right now…

When I first saw Mike Mignola and Christopher Golden’s Baltimore novel, I took a pass, a little leery of a comic book artist crossing the line into prose – even if he did have a capable writing partner. It didn’t work out so well for John Byrne back in the late 1980s. Does anybody remember John L. Byrne’s Fear Book? What about Whipping Boy? No? Don’t worry. You didn’t miss much, except for some very awkwardly written sex scenes that still give me the heebie-jeebies.

Granted, Mignola and Golden didn’t stray quite so far outside of their comfort zones with the Baltimore novel as Byrne did with his attempts at prose but the cynic in me couldn’t get past the bad taste left in my mouth all those years ago. Hindsight is, of course, 20/20. Looking back, I think I passed on Baltimore because I was quite content to remember Mignola as one of my favorite comic book creators and not as a failed novelist.

Be that as it may, Baltimore: The Plague Ships has convinced me to search out the original novel and give it another chance.

Set in France during the last days of an alternate World War I brought to an early end in 1916 by a plague of vampires, Baltimore: The Plague Ships is a beautifully rendered, tightly scripted tale of horror and suspense that hearkens back to the adventure fiction of the early 20th century. Drawing inspiration from myth, folklore, and history, Mignola and Golden offer the audience a world where shadows and magic vie for the souls of the innocent with a war that was the bloodiest in human history at the time.

The result is an action-packed allegory about the violence and darkness of war and its repercussions on those caught in the crossfire – or as the case may be with Baltimore, those surviving its aftermath. Mignola and Golden’s refreshing take on the vampire myth features real monsters killing real people. These bloodsuckers don’t whine or glow or try to fit in with the rest of humanity. They kill people and drink their blood, with nary a set of six-pack abs to be seen. Like I said – refreshing.

Baltimore himself is a fascinating character. One part Captain Ahab, one part Van Helsing, Lord Henry Baltimore is a battered warrior obsessed with confronting and killing his own white whale, the vampire lord called Haigus. Single-minded, resilient, and more than a little mad, Baltimore’s obsession with Haigus lands him in jail despite his fighting prowess and noble cause, lending the character much-needed vulnerability and humanity.

Bringing Baltimore and the French village of Villefranche to life is Ben Stenbeck, whose fluid visual storytelling and excellent rendering infuses the book with thick, storm-cloud atmosphere and loads of horror action. Stenbeck spots the blacks almost as well as Mignola himself, never allowing his action sequences to become muddy or indistinct. His pages are clearly laid out with few distractions, allowing the characters to drive the story and the audience to enjoy the ride without straining their eyes trying to pierce the gloom or navigate choppy page layouts.

Much like Hellboy: Seed of Destruction, Baltimore: The Plague Ships has about it that feeling of something truly special – that indescribable sense that we’re all about to go on a journey of dark and wondrous import. An epic in the making, this is a title we’ll all be talking about for years.

Don’t pass it up, because if you do, you’ll only end up like me – kicking yourself for not getting in on the ground floor of something great when you first had the chance.

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